I am sure Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) would have had their calendar for 2010 well in advance and accordingly informed the various national affiliates. Similarly, the teams participating for the 1st Asian Champions Trophy (ACT) in Ipoh from 13th to 18th April, would have agreed to their participation. Therefore at the 11th hour for Pakistan and South Korea to withdraw seems to be a diabolical decision. Pakistan's problem is their team, team management and selectors have resigned after their pathetic performance at the recent World Cup in New Delhi, while South Korea has not provided a reason. Although Pakistan scenario looks like a "force majeure" situation, it still does not provide Pakistan the excuse to withdraw. They had a good month from the World Cup for the ACT tournament and Pakistan Hockey could have done the needful. Obviously South Korea has no excuse why they cannot turn up as they were fully aware of the tournament.
It seems there was no careful thought process in Pakistan and South Korea on the decision and this may be due to the fact that the ACT tournament has no bearing on the world ranking or would provide a passage of entry for other prestigious tournaments like the Olympics, World Cup or Champions Trophy. This means both the countries can afford to be selfish without recognising the efforts put in by AHF to organise the tournament and other countries who are preparing for this tournament. I wonder what would both these countries have done if the ACT tournament had a significant bearing? One need not 2nd guess, they would have made all the necessary preparations to be at the tournament.
Essentially one has to wonder why AHF has the ACT tournament when it has no significant bearing. Maybe because the Europeans are doing it and the Asians have just decided to copy it. Alternatively it is just one of the tournaments organised by AHF to show how busy Asian hockey is. All these are great except when nations pull out at the 11th hour, it does not do good for Asian hockey or AHF itself.
This is where i believe AHF should have got some recognition or maybe concessions from FIH. Maybe the champions from ACT or its equivalent tournaments in Africa and other continents be given a direct entry to Champions Trophy. This essentially means that Champions Trophy is no more the top 6 ranked teams but rather a tournament representing the continental champions. This tournament essentially becomes representative of "one big happy family" of FIH. I am sure if this format is put into place for the Champions Trophy and ranking points are awarded, there would be very few "delinquent" countries trying to pull out at the last minute. All these points to the fact that AHF may not have the foresight or just that FIH may not be conducive to the idea.
I raise this point because the Champions Trophy in its current format means that 4 European, 1 Asian and 1 Oceanic country are represented. It would be a raw deal for the Europeans and FIH particularly with its European domination. They may not want to compromise. Further incorporating the continental champions may take away the glamour of the Champions Trophy ie tournament of the "top" nations in the world and the finances that come with it from television rights and sponsorship. Such realities need to be recognised and probably this is what dictates world hockey today.
Under these circumstances it is all about rich nations and more so "Caucasian" countries. Facts speak for itself. In the Champions Trophy it is 6 out of 6 as rich and 5 out of 6 "Caucasian", whereas at the recent World Cup 4 out of 4 on both fronts in the semi-finals. I have no doubt all of these has been on a meritorious basis except that it builds a " have and have not gap" in hockey among the rich and developing plus poorer nations. If nothing is done, then the "gap" is going to widen in the future and as i have warned in my previous article: Hockey World Cup - "Domination by the richer nations" in this blog on Monday 15th March, hockey shall only be played and enjoyed by the rich nations.
Lets get back to the ACT tournament and the dilemma that South Korea and Pakistan has posed to AHF. I do hope AHF does not cave in and postpone the tournament to a date convenient to these 2 countries. If they do they set a precedent that is going to come to haunt them in the future or they are admitting to the poor planning of their calendar ie ACT to be held just after the World Cup. If the ACT had a significant bearing i am sure whatever the situation both the countries would have come. This therefore means that the ACT tournament has been undervalued and therefore it is imperative that AHF takes punitive measures including barring these countries from participating in the coming Asian Games. After all the champions of Asian Games have a direct entry to the 2012 London Olympics and in no uncertain terms this would make both these countries not to undermine any AHF tournaments.
More importantly does the AHF have the "stomach" to take such harsh measures? Maybe for "political correctness" such thinking may be outside the thoughts of AHF. This may be the reason why Asian hockey is not making an impact on the world stage.